Linda Kamille Schmidt on the WoArt Blog!Read More
I have been a fan of Sui's work for many years, watching her work develop and grow. The first pieces I'd ever seen were singular, in a group show context where they stood out amongst the crowd, but it is when she gets to expand and do a large installation that I lose myself in the work. These life-like cellular forms that seem alive, growing from the earth or floating in the air that change the way you see the environment around you. I got the chance to work with her this last winter and she is as fantastic a person as she is an artist. Please enjoy getting to know her and her work!
It’s obvious that nature is a huge influence in your work, is there a natural setting that you find particularly inspirational? Is there a location or type of place that you’ve never been or experienced that you’d be interested in experimenting with an installation that you haven’t done already?
Nature is so wonderful that she is almost untouchable. But, there are some that I want to mimic and try to reinterpret to add my sentiments and thoughts. I sometimes travel to the national parks to get inspirations. I hope I get a chance to visit Death Valley and Joshua tree National Parks this time. I didn’t get a chance to visit there and I think the names of the parks are just intriguing.
For those that maybe haven’t yet realized it, your work is made from weaving zip-ties together, which is really fun to watch that discovery happen as people look at your work. Has there been a favorite or memorable response from someone as they figured our your medium? What’s the most common question you get when people figure out your material? And how do you like to respond?
The most common question that I receive is “What are they made out of?” The audience is surprised to hear that the material is cable tie. And, always look again to find out that it is indeed made of cable ties. I also think my audience finds interesting that my artworks are solely handmade without any tools.
In your most recent work, you’ve been incorporating color much more than I’ve seen you do in the past. Was there a particular inspiration for that work? Can you tell us a little about that series?
I think there are some features that can be better represented with colors. I came across an idea that my work might be fun in visualizing taste, and the way we observe taste is not only via our palates, but also through its presentation and colors. I thought including more colors would bring more menus to the table.
I know that you had studied architecture and environmental design in school, which in itself I think provides a lot of insight to your work from your ability to see space so wonderfully to perhaps being drawn to a functional item like a zip-tie and making that into Art. I’d love to hear about your viewpoint on your path to your artistic career.
I worked as an interior designer while working on my fiber artwork. I actually have an MFA in Fiber Arts before continuing a design study in Interior Architecture and Environmental Design. I think a design study helps me better understand how my work can be a better fit in a given environment. I find myself more of an art person than design person.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Jennifer Ling Datchuk and Jayoung Yoon make beautiful and meticulous artwork. I think their works are very effective in visualizing and creating sensitive narrative. Yes, they both use hair. No, I’m not a hair maniac. ;-) But, I do know that working with hair is very difficult.
Do you have any events or shows coming up that you’d like to share?
I am going to show my new project “Palate” series and some of my works at the Yard in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY coming up in May 2018. I am very excited to be able to introduce my new color work there. Please drop by when you have a chance!
To see more of Sui's work, please visit her website here: http://www.suipark.com/
Victoria UdondianRead More
Leslie and I first met when we showed together almost exactly a year ago, but I had in the months prior to that already been checking out her website and getting to know her fascinating work. I love work that surprises me and makes me think in a different way, and that is exactly what she achieves. And I am obsessed when work can’t quite be defined as one thing. It’s drawing, it’s installation, it’s fiber…it’s amazing. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about her work and process as much as I have!
We share a love for words and language, but for you, it is on a whole other level. How many languages do you speak? Are there any favorite words or phrases that you have that have one meaning in one language or context, and another in another language or context? (for instance I keep thinking of Cézanne and how he would do that between French and English with some of his titles.)
My love of language comes from my family, from growing up in a home where more than one language was spoken. My father’s native language was Dari, a dialect of Persian spoken in Afghanistan. I did not learn it as a child, but did learn many words and phrases, and developed a fascination with and respect for the multiple ways one might express oneself. I have studied many languages, including Persian, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Latin, but Spanish is the only language other than English that I feel I can speak somewhat fluently.
My favorite words change frequently.
I do enjoy pondering common words, and the way in which their meanings might be distributed in different languages. For example, in English, there is one verb “to be,” while in Spanish, the meanings encompassed in that one English verb are expressed in two verbs: “ser” and “estar.” As a teacher of Spanish to English speakers, that is one of my favorite points of grammar, and one that I have also enjoyed exploring through my work. It is so essential (!), and beautiful to contemplate.
One of the things I loved learning about your work was the rhythmic aspect to it as well. It wasn't just the words or double meanings language can provide, but it was the way in which we say them, the sounds themselves that come out of our mouths. I found it fascinating. Can you describe that a little, how and why this aspect came to develop in your work? Did you ever have a musical background? If not, do you ever listen to music while you work?
That aspect of my work, in the pieces where I use the marking tags and text, comes directly from my interest in the sound patterns of language, rather than from music. Each language has its own patterns of construction; of sequencing vowels and consonants that constitute syllables, words and larger units of meaning. When I create one of these text-generated pieces, I mark specific groups of vowels or consonants, or nouns, verbs, conjunctions, etc. The patterns of the marking tags thus foreground and highlight the underlying patterns of the grammar.
On that note of rhythm, there's an element of time in your work as well. The erasing be that from the walls of the installations to sometimes on the tags themselves give this feeling that change was made, edits, alterations allowing us as viewers to see a process, as if the final thought was unfinished and developed as you worked. Can you talk a little about that aspect in your work? Why is it important to be actually erasable vs simply appearing to be as an aesthetic choice?
Unless and until we commit language to print, or some other “permanent” medium, we naturally edit and alter how we speak, sign, write. Erasure speaks to this way of approximating an idea, of successive attempts to get closer and closer to having words express what is in our minds. For me, the fact that the work is not “fixed,” suggests, too, that infinite future alterations are possible.
On alterations, you clearly have a love for thread and textiles. The repetition and linear aspects of both writing and textiles really do go hand in hand and play off of each other wonderfully in your work. How did you first come about bringing these two things together? Can you speak about the particular meaning when combining these elements in your work?
Yes, as you note, language and thread have been closely associated across many cultures. There is a rich history of exploration of this association by many artists. Anni Albers and others have written about the ability that thread has to communicate. I love the sensitivity of a line of thread, as well as a line of handwritten text, and the way that both reflect the hand of their maker. Text and textile, are, of course, etymologically related, and come from a root that means “to weave.” Writing and reading thus carry with them always the idea of weaving. Once I began to seriously look at the many connections between textiles and language, it led my work in new directions.
Lastly, let's discuss color, or the lack of it quite often in your work. At what point of the creative process do you make those decisions in your work? Is the text and layout sketched out first then color applied (or not)? Can you go into more detail about the tags specifically and how they interact and punctuate the work?
I began the “marking” series predominantly in black, white, and gray, as a challenge to myself to make the work with as few elements as possible. In more recent pieces, I began to incorporate color to reflect some aspects of the “semantic layer” of the text. Thus, the works incorporating Gertrude Stein’s “a rose is a rose” are marked with red, pink, yellow, and orange tags. Sometimes I have a color idea before I choose the text; at other times, the text comes first. And the text itself suggests ways of highlighting aspects of its grammar. I love the fact that the tags I use are called “marking tags,” and enjoy the rich associations the term “marking” carries, in both linguistic and visual fields. Each tag is pinned to a specific place in the text, marking a sound or a word. This is why I use map pins: to point to a location in the text.
Do you have any favorite female artists? (1-3)
It is difficult to name only three of the many artists who have influenced and inspired me, so I will start with the letter “A”: Anni Albers, Agnes Martin, and the many generations of Andean artists who for centuries have created brilliant, beautiful, and complex textiles.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events that you'd like to share?
I am creating a new piece that I began with community help at AS220’s Foo Fest in August, 2017. The finished work will eventually be installed in the “Open Window” outside AS220’s Empire Street Gallery in Providence.
If you'd like to learn more about Leslie Atik and see more of her incredible work, check out her website here: http://www.leslieatik.com/
Etty and I got to know each other first when she curated my work into a group show in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Being someone that both curates and creates work myself, I felt an immediately connection to her. Her work draws me in where you feel like you can get lost in it, absorbed by the details, swim around in them and leave with this new perspective. Her work makes me think and I find after a viewing, it pops back in my head frequently, my brain unable to let it go. Her process is unique and work is stunning, I hope you enjoying getting to know her as much as I have!
To begin, let's let people know your unique materials and process. You are an artist that works in that lovely blurry space in between 3D and 2D work. Can you tell us a little about your approach, how you begin from sourcing materials to the decision making process between more sculptural or installation work to wall hung work?
You nailed it. This blurry space in between 3D and 2D is key in my vocabulary. I usually start a new work with a general idea – theme and rough visual direction. Within that context my work is largely process-based and evolves out of moment to moment explorations, searching for new formal possibilities and internal associative logic in each work.
The starting point can come from a wide range of sources - seeing an artifact or artwork, reading fiction or non-fiction, listening to a radio segment, watching a movie, and so on - I am kind of porous in that respect. Here is a genesis of one project for instance: I have been thinking a lot about the global refugee crisis in the last years and the notion of displacement in a historical context has pre-occupied me since early. Back in 2014 I happened to stumble upon an ancient Assyrian prism, a small archeological artifact at the Chicago Oriental institute, which related to political propaganda, war, exile, manipulation of natural resources – like today’s news. For the next few years I was haunted by this object -- started reading about it extensively and traveled to see 2 other such prisms in Israel museum and the British Museum. It all resulted in a large scale installation which included a floating prism and several wall reliefs.
My process in a nutshell consists of constructing and deconstructing fragments of repetitive documentation: I use a wide range of materials from my studio and from every-day life – such as found objects, drawings, paintings, and photographs which frequently depict autobiographical fragments from my environment, juxtaposed with imagery from media and scientific data. The material is determined by the content and can be quite diverse - it may include assorted paper, plastic and fabric.
In the process I am questioning how these disjointed pieces create tension but also how they all come together as a whole. The work is widely varied in scale – from small scale collages to monumental immersive installations. In either format I am trying to capture a sort of hybrid mindscape, a sense of place that is both internal and external, somewhere between the real and the imagined, the organic and the artificial, landscape and topography.
If the work is made with a particular exhibition space in mind, which is often the case, I am deciding on wall / inner space / work orientation based on site features. If it’s an independent project I start at my studio with no particular space in mind, then I determine the form based on what works best with the content. Overall, for practical reasons I am trying to keep modularity and flexibility in mind as a general rule.
You didn't always work this way, what inspired the change? Can you tell us how the work you were doing previously inspired and informed the work now?
I think it’s an evolutionary process. I have always thought as a collagist, in layers of meaning and texture, no matter what media I used, even in my line drawings. Overall, I am coming from drawing and painting. I incorporated assemblages in my work early on. Looking back at my earlier reliefs, I see a locked tension in there, it’s as if the work always wanted to get away from the wall into the inner space and assume a new sculptural presence. I am playing off this tension more consciously now.
In more general terms, like many other artists, most life experiences enter my work. For instance, I worked as an editorial illustrator for publications such as the New York Times and the Nation after art school. The fast pace and need for visual clarity in response to texts, made me start each drawing with brainstorming multiple associative ideas, and I still work that way today.
Back to the 2D and 3D processes - for me they are part of an elaborate layering process which creates tension between the flat and the dimensional, but at the same time also creates a complimentary symbiosis. Largely, I think that the importance of 2 and 3D play in my work increased as a response to our digital information age. In a way I am trying to capture the essence of a drastically fragmented reality and re-invent it as an uncategorized space - where simultaneous bits of knowledge form un-hierarchical and fluid hybrid surfaces, hopefully with potential for some meaning.
Your work has such an emotional quality to it, and often a flow, as if caught in motion. Be that from wave like installations, to swirling almost areal landscapes to floating sculptures that give this element of time captured, caught in this moment that is the art. Which makes me think back to photography, a literal capture of a moment in time and your use of those materials. Can you discuss a little that relationship?
Since early on I have been preoccupied by how people metabolize stories out of patterns that recur daily - how each of us processes diurnal time in context of personal memories and sense of place, and at the same time, search for the common underlying essence of our humanity. Like you say, photography is a great tool for this, it’s an important tool in my kit. I regularly document my surroundings daily – my way from the subway to the studio, from depicting graffiti on a Bushwick street to people walking with long shadows in corporate environments. I print the images on diverse materials (film, cloth, etc) and utilize them in my mind like paint. They assume new life in my story – both as forms and as clues for potential narratives. I love the dichotomy of specificity and abstraction that is inherent in a photo. It is simultaneously of the moment and a memory of that moment. This question always brings me back to Susan Sontag’s uncanny vision, when she referred to the image as an object, saying that collecting photographs is like collecting the world.
One of the many ways in which I personally connect with your work is the similar way in which you ask the viewer to get into the work and notice the details where they can discover the content. Do you have a good story of a time that you got to watch that discovery? A great comment or insight that someone brought to the work?
I am very glad you connect with my work that way - it is rewarding when a viewer spends time with the work and goes through the process of discovery. I am mostly coming out of my personal narrative into a wider web of connectivity.
The first story that comes to mind in this context---at an artist talk in a recent show at a university gallery, a student approached me after the talk and told me that my series of hanging mobiles reminded her vividly of the coastal landscape of her homeland, an island in Japan. The way she described in poetic and emotional way how it made her think of layers of fish, rocks and sea – stirred me.
Another anecdote relates to a different body of work and took place at another artist talk - one of the viewers who looked very attentively at a large wall relief, scrutinizing it from many angles, close-up and farther away, then he finally told me with visible excitement – “I am an aeronautics engineering graduate and I recognize in there patterns of turbulent air currents but this is also a landscape and it reminds me of a satellite map.” He said the artwork made him see and think about familiar things in new ways. That was a substantial takeaway for me.
Other memorable communications with viewers involve especially dancers’ comments - many of whom bring their sensibility for movement and tactility into the experience of viewing the work - I sense how they get a truly visceral experience. Children are also favorite viewers – a couple of years ago at an open studio an angelic 3 year old girl was peeking into each cranny of my wall relief for a long time. “What do you see?” I finally asked her; “the world” she said with the utmost certainty.
You recently did a residency in Georgia, I'd love to hear more about that, how it has changed your work if it has at all, and how it's inspired work that you're creating now, back at home?
So the residency in Tbilisi Georgia was a remarkable experience on all levels. I was there for over a month (first time in the country) as resident at the State Silk Museum, which is a 19th century architectural jewel, a bit run down and victim to historical upheavals. The spectacular diverse landscape, urban textures, complex history and the hybrid nature of the museum (between natural history– history- art) stirred me deeply.
I was working daily on a site specific exhibition at the museum, which could take place in any space of my choice at the museum. I was drawn to the library, an overwhelming space filled with elaborate 19th century Russian architectural features and a huge collection of rare books on butterflies, mulberry trees and silk production.
For my installation I chose to use existing museum objects, such as discarded museum cases, pieces of dysfunctional lab equipment, trashed silk remnants and the library architectural features—such as 2 elongated tables, a majestic work-table that was designed for the founder of the institute (it was established in1887 as the Caucasian Sericulture Station, http://www.silkmuseum.ge/index.php?a=main&pid=1&lang=eng ), shelves and vitrines. In short, I made a full room installation that utilized the unique architectural features.
Integrating found objects and prominent architecture on site in a full room installation stimulated the documentarian - story teller in me and brought my work to another place. It’s true not only in obvious terms of material usage – I have never used mostly fabric in my former installations, but also in terms of approaching a more complex site-specific project. The opportunity to stay for a prolonged time period in this unique site, research its past and present challenges, while absorbing a totally foreign culture and landscape, altogether added another layer of experience which I am still processing.
Currently I am further developing a project that started from the museum installation - it includes larger scale modular books.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Many---several that come to mind:
Do you have any upcoming events or shows that you'd like to share?
I have 2 upcoming solo shows out of state this coming year and some long-term projects I started. I will be moving to a new studio at the beginning of next year, but that is a chapter for another story.
To learn more about Etty and her work, please visit her website here: http://www.ettyyanivstudio.com/
I first became aware of Camille's work when we both did a group show together back in 2011 and have been loving seeing her work continue to evolve and grow through the years. This latest series I had the pleasure of seeing exhibited at Odetta in Brooklyn not too long ago, and it is very powerful. When you get to be up close and personal with it, it's hard to take your eyes off the work. They are exquisitely made, and the choice of presentation perfect. There is something about the balance between traditional identifiable shapes and forms with the unexpected surfaces and imagery that I just can't get enough of. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about her process and ideas as much as I have!
I admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for mix media works, especially when they incorporate the mixture of traditional applications and new mediums in unexpected ways. Some of your more recent work, particularly The Fez as Storyteller Series uses digital imagery. You’ve done it wonderfully, where it’s this surprise as you closely inspect the work. It’s a fantastic way to bring traditional imagery into a more current aesthetic. Can you tell us a little about how you began doing this in your work?
Actually, this had it's beginnings when I decided to create an artwork for a show on the cultural history and fate of synagogues around the world, a curated show titled Silent Witness sponsored by the Jewish Art Salon. All my work had to do with psychological and social repercussions stemming from family dynamics and learned cultural traditions, especially with regard to females. The theme refocused my take on these ideas.
As Iraqi Jews who emigrated to Bombay, India, in the late 1800's, my ancestors were part of a thriving tight-knit group who experienced a melding of influences. Against the backdrop of one of the Bombay synagogues that had very badly deteriorated due to disuse over many decades (ultimately restored by an American), I began to examine social conventions and inherent inequity that defined religious and Old World cultural doctrine. From that, my first piece of the series, Red Fez: Boy, Woman was created.
Your childhood and cultural upbringing has clearly had an influence on your work, but it seems to go much beyond that. There’s a deep rooted ancestral connection and yet also this cosmic mystical connection that vibrates in your work. From the literal icons and symbolism to the astral atmospheres that you create, can you describe your connection to this type of imagery? How is it symbolic to your personal narrative?
Thank you for seeing the mystical, which in one sense is part of the traditions I am exploring. Throughout our lives there was constant reference to our roots and forbears, an almost tribal connection to those that were and are, thus making a spiritual link to those we never met but who loom large in our psyches (perhaps owing to the concept of memory, "to remember" replete in Judaism). The icons serve to provide a grounding for the references but I think the emotional "vibrations" are what ultimately matters.
Rebirth is also a theme that comes up in most of your work. As well as a deep connection to the female experience. Can you talk a little about what this means to you specifically, and how you feel this theme has grown and changed over the course of your career? Do you ever look back on older work and see a rebirth of its own?
True, this is a consistent theme in my work. I have experienced a lot of turmoil, crisis, inconsistency, and loss throughout my life, so the drive to be relinquished, to be restored, becomes a natural yet surging theme in my work.
In terms of a female connection, the experience of being all female in my immediate family but for my dominant father fostered a critical vulnerability, but also the necessity to endure the intermittent raging outbursts and abuse to which we were subject. In families from Old World traditions having a male child is celebratory. The lingering sense was that a female was generally seen as a dependent, faintly a disappointment, but also, contradictorily, someone to hang onto, shield, and protect. Without a voice that was truly heard, she was legitimized when a male came along, who took a kind of "ownership" of her.
That said, nothing in my family experience was one way but rather mixed, often to extremes. I used the word "lingering" above. In a larger sense the experience was more of a straddling between the vestiges of the antiquated attitudes and a synthesizing of a modern, contemporary world, for all the players concerned. One of many a mixed message.
Interestingly, I am not sure the theme of rebirth has changed so much but that there are different ways of my expressing it throughout my career. I often use foliage or florals to represent irrepressibility. In a later series there is a return to the cosmos, or beginning. In terms of a rebirth when looking back at older pieces I see a rekindling or continuum of some of the ideas, symbols or images used, as had occurred with prior artworks. I think that viewers will interpret the art through their own relationship with the content, but since there is a timelessness in the work I am not sure their response is significantly different with time--perhaps a deeper understanding and receptivity because the public is more aware in general.
One can’t see your work and not see you in it. It’s highly personally reflective and narrative to your unique story, but at the same time it can read as having a larger political and social message as well. You’ve also had the opportunity to show your work in multiple parts of the world. Do you find that your work is received and interpreted differently depending on where it is shown? Is there a place that you’ve always wanted to show your work that you haven’t gotten to yet?
The personal often becomes the political. It is important as a witness to reflect and emphasize the meaning of my experience in broader terms for others to consider, construe and contemplate, to enlighten or interface with the viewer--and less about merely personal aspects. But I find that in discussing the work, the specifics are hard to get away from.
I have not yet concretely found that my work is interpreted differently by locale but perhaps by the individual (though it may be less understood in certain areas due to a homogenization of the population). Some may find the concepts and presentation "foreign" in a variety of ways. Conversely, I recently gave a talk on the Fez as Storyteller series to accompany my current show at Lockhart Gallery in SUNY Geneseo. A young female student born in Bangladesh remarked how she could glean pieces from the work to make a mosaic of meaning for her. It varies, as with most experiences with art.
In regard to exhibiting, there are lots of places where I would like to show. In a sense my art has the air of "museum" work. Ideally, I see the Fez series, for example, in large vitrines to underscore the quality of the artifact. They bear a historic aspect but yet are contemporary in nature-so a host of museums, art spaces and gallery venues would be viable. The Jewish Museum in NY, and contemporary art museums and spaces. My interest lies in what is human, so worldwide the essence could be appreciated.
You use a plethora of materials, fiber elements to mannequins to traditional oil sticks…are these happy random findings or do you have to go out searching for them specifically? Have you ever tried working with a found material that just gave you trouble? Or is there any medium that you haven’t tried yet that you’ve always wanted to? Or a technique/skill that you’ve always been fascinated by and wanted to learn?
I tend to be lucky with finding material things, but in my work nothing is random--it all has to make sense for me. Though the art has an emotional thrust, I am rather analytical and have an intellectual approach. I can't say I remember having a found object give me trouble--I tend to do many tests to see what is best to use media-wise. A happy story entails my needing to weather some wood to build an intentionally worn-out frame as a metaphor for the center-piece drawing. I was out on my way to the hardware store to buy the weathering product and lo and behold! someone had thrown out their weathered, beaten, rusty nail-ridden trellis!! Just what I needed! I loaded up my arms and made a couple of trips back home with the treasure.
There are so many enticing mediums yielding so many ideas. Right now, I would love to learn digital embroidery, and more about pattern-making and draping for my current work.
As an artist that works in sculpture to painting, when approaching new work, how do you typically begin? How do you choose the best medium to pursue the ideas and concepts with?
I generally tend to "see" the piece in my mind in a somewhat completed state, a kind of visualization, so the medium and technique I use is part of that vision. My job it to assess the best methods and steps to make it material. The question for me is largely "How am I going to do that?", and as I mentioned prior, I do a lot of tests. I also haunt consignment shops, thrift, antique, craft and hardware stores, my studio, my closet, or just about anywhere what I need could be attained. The Fez as Storyteller series, especially, requires all types of designing and construction skills since so many disparate elements are combined.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
I have many, but to top the list is Louise Bourgeois (I have a good story regarding her). It is hard to pick after her so I have added a few Frida Kahlo, Joan Mitchell, Eva Hesse, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Kiki Smith, Cindy Sherman.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events that you’d like to share?
Currently I have a one-person show at the Lockhart Gallery at SUNY Geneseo featuring The Fez as Storyteller series. I have been invited to show in an exhibition at the Hudson River Museum of Art, NY, titled The Neo-Victorians: Contemporary Artists Revive Gilded Age Glamour which opens early 2018. More immediately, I will be in an group show titled Me, My Selfie, and I at the Hudson Guild in Chelsea, NYC opening on October 5th 2017. There may be another in the offing as well.
If you'd like to see more of Camille's work, please visit her website at http://camilleeskell.com/
I first got to know Christine's work through the recommendation of a fellow artist friend whom I was putting together a proposal with for SPRINGBREAK. One that was pretty awesome I must say, and Christine's work was absolutely perfect for the theme. I was blown away at first sight. I loved her method of controlling the medium and process, yet allowing for randomness and improvisation and experimentation within the work itself. When artists are able to pull off working in so many realms, I am always incredibly impressed. I think you'll all love her work as much as I do, it is fascinating!
Your work unmistakably has a reference to grids and patterns, but you have a more detailed and specific inspiration than that, one I feel many may not be familiar with, the aperiodic patterns. Can you tell us a little about what that is and when you first discovered these yourself? When did they start to consume your creative process?
I am interested in the origins of creation – how things come together, how they fall apart, and the emergent qualities of those interactions – which are the motivating factor in my art practice. Being acutely aware of pattern early in life initially led me to graphic design. My 20-year career working as a designer frequently involved designing patterns for various clients. Prior to 2011, my paintings were heavily patterned, but there was always something problematic about the repetitive mark-making in my work. Looking back, I know that I was searching for complexity by creating complication, but discovered that layering patterns didn’t offer me the results I was after. The solution was in finding the right pattern. I began researching a variety of patterns and came across a unique pattern that does not repeat, called the Penrose pattern. The distinctive property of aperiodicy in this pattern has fascinating connections to a variety of disciplines such as sacred geometry, theoretical physics and chemistry. Employing the Penrose pattern led me to rethink the origins of creation as well as the underlying structures that make up our reality.
Painting left me feeling confined by the edges of the canvas. The periodic repetition in my work would always infer an endlessness, but ultimately stop at the edge. The non-repeating Penrose pattern is different in that there is no defined edge. At first glance it looks as though it’s an ordinary repeating pattern, but upon a closer inspection, there is no repetition. It is the repetition of difference not the repetition of sameness. Based on five-point symmetry that completely tiles a plane with no gaps using only two rhomb shapes, there is never an absolute end. The tessellation rules are rather complex in that you cannot really predict with any certainty where the next tile goes outside of a local area. The Penrose pattern is technically a fractal and has the same proportions of the golden ration connected it closely with the Fibonacci Sequence. It’s the muse that keeps on giving. For example, there is a grid that can be used as map to tessellate the penrose pattern called the Ammann bars. In some of my installations, I use string to engage the space and bring the rhombs out of their two-dimensional domain using this grid.
One of the things that always strikes me about your work is your use of light. How it flows through the acrylic sheets, changes and alters, bends and behaves within your work. How do you go about creating these pieces?
I love to play with light. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand all the underlying physics, it seems magical to me. During grad school, I was working on an installation and I accidentally refracted light off of an acetate stencil. The projected light made a fascinating pattern. It looked very similar to the aperiodic patterns I was working with. If I had to describe it I would say that it looked like the nerve connections in the brain. I was hooked on working with light after that.
Through experimenting with various materials and light sources, I have found that LEDs give off the best reactions with neon plexi. These lights have a very intense hot spot unlike traditional bulbs that have a diffuse spread. The focused beam creates sharp shadows and dramatic refractions. I build my sculptures from shapes I have laser cut out of plexi glass. The neon shapes cast colorful and intense shadows. I can move the lights around to get different intensities and distorted forms from the original sculpture. Compositionally, I find that my focus quickly shifts to the formless forms and the sculpture becomes more of a tool. Someone once told me that I paint with light. Perhaps that’s partly true.
You have a unique way of turning what might otherwise be 2D into 3D, be that through panels and sheets to string, and light projections. How do you typically approach that aspect in your work, do you begin with one element or another typically? Do you start with a plan or let it grow organically?
I originally started with the 2D Penrose pattern but soon was searching for a way to progress to 3D. This led me to the quasicrystal, its 3-dimensional sibling discovered by a chemist in the 1980s. The quasicrystal is a crystalline structure that matches the Penrose tiling. Once considered impossible, this aperiodic crystal was first discovered in the lab and then later in a rare 4.6 billion year old meteorite. Current scientific research is focused on the unusual properties of this new form of matter concentrating on its thermal, electrical and light interactions. What I find especially interesting is that computer scientists are experimenting with its structure to form an artificial neural net for AI. I wasn’t that off when I saw what looked like nerve connections in the brain when the light danced on wall in grad school.
When looking for an idea, I will read scientific papers or a book about quasicrystals. I attempt to grasp a basic concept. This usually takes many read throughs since I’m far from a scientist. I explore what I’ve learned through making a model and then experiment from there, There are so many aspects to how these crystals form and the testing that goes into understanding them. For example, my piece “Quantum Bubbles” originated from the x-ray method to detect aperiodic diffraction patterns in quasicrystals. I was fascinated by the variety of dot patterns that could be found in a single crystal just by changing its orientation.
Your color choices are often vibrant, neon almost. Is there a specific meaning to this or is it a natural affinity? Do you ever change your mind, have to re-work a piece due to color choices?
Color is a vehicle to express the geometric connections. I can call out a specific aspect of a pattern by shifting color. I don’t give it a tremendous amount of thought. Color is intuitive. It feels right or wrong. The neon plexi has dramatic contrast which works well for demonstrating the substructures that I illustrate in my sculptures. When I paint I reference a palette I found in a science paper that illustrates the photonic band measurements in the subatomic structure of aperiodic alloys. Color must be a participant in the structure or it’s a wasted element. Some pieces I don’t use color at all, just clear plexi.
Let's chat about your routine a little, what's the first thing you do when you get to your studio, and what is the last?
I’m tremendously lucky to have an amazing space to make art. A group of friends from grad school and I rented out a raw 7,000-square-foot floor in the original Johnson & Johnson factory in East Orange, NJ. We built out 7 studios and joined a community of 40+ artists. When I arrive, I usually greet my studio mates and maybe have a cup of tea. We talk art, politics and share good recipes. After that I get to work. I don’t bring my laptop into the studio, so I can keep the focus on the physical aspect of what I have to do. I try to do all my digital work and online research outside the studio. When it’s time to go, I might go water the plants in the common kitchen area and then head home.
What do you do if you're feeling uninspired or in an artistic rut?
Read, read and read. You have to put in to get anything out. Expanding my mind is the only thing that will shake something new loose. I also will call artist friends into my studio to talk about the work and get feedback. Super-convenient that I have artists all around me in my space. Those conversations are invaluable.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Dorothea Rockburne’s work with number sets and geometry has been influential in my work. Teresita Fernandez’s installations and work with plexi are inspirational. I loved her show at Mass MOCA a few years ago. And last but not least, would be one of my early heroes, Joan Mitchell. I found a kindred spirit in her use of color and composition and still do.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events that you'd like to share?
I currently have an installation up at First Street Gallery in Chelsea. I will be up until August 10th.
To learn more about Christine and her incredible work, please visit her website here: http://www.christinesoccio.com/index.html
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